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Pre Training Camp Report - ST - By Bryan Hersh July 26 2005

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In recent years, the 49ers have put a little extra focus on creating a solid special teams unit. This year, under coach Nolan, that trend is likely to continue. Place kicker of course is among the most important of the competitions that will take place this summer, as the 49ers try and determine who has the more reliable leg, veteran free agent acquisition Joe Nedney, or youngster Kirk Yliniemi who has been in the thick of the battle for a roster spot the past few seasons. Right now, the money is on Nedney to win the position.

Arnaz Battle is currently the teams primary punt and kick returner. If he starts at wide receiver though, the 49ers might think twice about his special teams duties. With Derrick Hamiton injured, that leaves both return positions open for competition. Maurice Hicks, PJ Fleck, and rookies Rasheed Marsall, Marcus Maxwell, Daven Holly, and Derrick Johnson are all expected to do whatever it takes to earn a roster spot. That likely means a very intense battle at the return positions. The athleticism of Rasheed Marshal may give him a slight edge at winning a position.

Punter Andy Lee will see competition from Cole Farden, but in all likelihood will return as the teamís punter this year. Lee does need to work on his consistency. The 49ers may try to further the competition at this position, but Leeís experience with the winds at Candelstick will give him a serious edge.

Brian Jennings is a lock at long snapper. He is one of the best in the game. Either Andy Lee or Tim Rattay will work as the teamís holder for place kicks.

Special teams is not an area to be ignored. Young players in particular will be fighting it out to secure a spot on the roster. Their ability to be versatile and have an impact in the transition game could make the difference between making the roster and not.

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